Detroit — After a forgettable December and a slow start in January, the Detroit Pistons look to be finding a good rhythm and some consistency. It started with last week’s win against the Los Angeles Clippers in Blake Griffin’s return to face his former team.
A residual effect has been some good, intense play, which led a close loss against the Utah Jazz but a win Wednesday over the Orlando Magic at home. It’s not exactly a long win streak, but stringing together a couple of encouraging outings and a few good quarters is something
That the Pistons’ improved play is coming during a stretch of games against other teams grasping for a playoff spot is another encouraging sign for the team, because it means they can pull themselves up in the standings and get the advantage in head-to-head tiebreakers, if they’re needed.
“You never feel good. I wouldn’t use that word, but this is where we have to make hay,” Pistons coach Dwane Casey said. “One thing we’re doing well now is our level of intensity and how hard we’re playing. I loved it in the Clippers game and it happened after we got our butts whooped in Sacramento.
“We came out with some pride versus the Clippers and continued it in Utah and for the most part in our last game.”
It’s a small sample size but given the Pistons’ erratic play in the first half of the season, any signs of consistency are welcomed. They haven’t won back-to-back games since Dec. 1 and although the losses have been piling up, the Pistons aren’t out of the playoff chase.
Casey pointed to some of the little things, such as getting to loose balls, taking charges, screening hard and running the court hard as examples of what’s been improved, but if it doesn’t carry over from one game to the next, it’s not a consistent habit — which the Pistons are going to need, if they’re going to get into any type of meaningful win streak.
“We have to continue to do that because we have to be that little scrappy group of guys that could because we haven’t done anything. We haven’t been to the playoffs in the last four (actually three) years, so that should be burning our insides out,” Casey said. “Everything we do has to be hard, with a level of intensity that our guys probably aren’t comfortable doing.”
The schedule has lightened a little bit as well, as it’s gone from the likes of the Bucks, 76ers and Celtics in December to a group that’s just above .500 — and the wins are there for the taking. Casey said the way to take advantage is to play the same way they did against the Clippers, which started things moving in the right direction.
“I reminded the guys that we have to remember that feeling. That’s not hard to do, to play with that type of intensity, that level of play that it’s going to take to get to the playoffs,” he said. “Everybody’s bunched up (in the standings) in that group and every game is going to be that way as we go forward.”
The Pistons got a couple of injury scares in the first quarter when two of their rotation players had to go to the locker room. Andre Drummond took an inadvertent elbow in the nose and stayed on the floor for a minute before being helped up and taken to the bench. His status is unclear for the back-to-back on Saturday night against the Kings.
Ish Smith had groin tightness and pulled himself from the game. It was his third game back, after missing 19 games because of a torn right adductor. If he misses significant time, the Pistons could look to make a move with one of their new acquisitions, point guards Isaiah Whitehead and Kalin Lucas, who are on two-way contracts with the Grand Rapids Drive.
Kings at Pistons
Tip-off: 7 Saturday, Little Caesars Arena
Outlook: The Kings (23-22) are one of the surprise teams in the NBA, with 10 more wins than last season at this point. They’re two games out of the sixth spot in the competitive Western Conference.